Last week’s ride was not typical. Carl and I were early and headed out to check the trails before the ride at 7pm. This bit was typical. I had set up ready for a cold, frosty ride with lots of layers and a fat tyre on the front but it seemed slightly mild.
I did not manage to ride any trails, in fact I did not manage to reach any trails defeated by the first section of fireroad with the wheels clogged in melting sludge. I did not manage to push the bike to the first trail and I did not manage to carry the bike to the first trail either. Instead I rolled and reversed continually inching my way up the tiny slope.
Carl was volunteered to head up the fireroad on his narrow wet weather tyres to check the conditions whilst I starting using dozens of sticks to clear the goo.
I never managed any trail, despite clearing the wheels but trundled along a small section of fireroad to exit into a nearby field. Surely the grass would despatch the mud, clean the tyres and I would be free rolling for the ride proper.
Couldn’t roll in the field so walked to the road and then wobbled slowly back depositing the mud akin to a combine harvester exiting a muddy field.
Back at the car park Rob had a plan. Back at the car park Carl had a plan. Rob’s plan was to ride the trails and Carl’s plan was to go anywhere else. David rolled in to offer a bridleway report on the Woodingdean side. “Dry?” I asked hopefully only to have my faint hopes cruelly dashed with his “unrideable” description.
After further discussion we agreed on a road start and the rocky climb to check the options. At the climb Rob headed off in the lead. Rob. Prodigal Steve rode up alongside discussing weekend rides. I can never keep up with Steve but followed in a “ready to be dropped” role. Instead of the usual disappearing trick by halfway we were still together. Steve’s recent lack of a working mtb has forced him to rely on his road bike so as we hit the corner I changed down in my planned futile attempt to be dropped in more than a bike length as he was about to change into Tour mode and hurtle upwards as I rolled almost backwards.
This did not happen. Rob was still on full output. Rob. A gap appeared. Prodigal Steve lost/gave up the wheel. I held on to his wheel. This was wrong. Rob got faster. I held Steve’s wheel. Everyone got a little faster. Rob was disappearing. Rob.
Rob won the hillclimb. Rob.
Steve generously admitted his first hill defeat to Rob. I was surprised. Not that Rob won the climb but I had held onto Steve’s wheel. This was proof.
Proof that riding a road bike is not as good as riding a mountain bike. It must be proof as I kept up with Steve.
I expect that our Prodigal Steve will fit in a couple of mtb rides and return to his usual place at the front of the pack and be his old self again, but I did keep up for one hill.
We continued upwards looking to link the less used, drier trails to make a less muddy route for the night. Rob was still leading uphill holding onto his hillclimb crown. Rob.
He then lead into the first trail, bit of sludge but manageable except where horses had chopped the ground badly. Next trail Rob was off in front again. He was having a good night.
He was having a good night right up to the point where his front wheel lost the battle with the sludge and decided to stop immediately of its’ own volition.
Rob then added the full superman crown to his hillclimb one. We looped around as Rob started a stickfest which was to continue for the rest of the night at approximately one trail to one sludge clear as an average.
We found several of the less used, tight narrow trails to be mud free and clear but the fireroads were a struggle fest. Matt’s non-lightweight fat bike can really hold a lot of extra weight and most of us would not have managed to keep up. He generously offered me a borrow, not just for a trail, but for a whole ride. We then lost Nick on his singlespeed with his Hercules gear as having a bug and fighting the uphills was an impossible combination. Rather than have Nick wait for an hour Matt rode down to offer him a beer in the pub which was two nice things in the one night so gets the nice crown for that.
We decided to swing east to find dry trail Nirvana. A long tarmac hill was where Rob surrendered the hillclimb crown. We slithered some more, found some drier stuff and attempted an off-piste approach that was surprisingly successful. I headed in to a trail combination with John on my tail. This worked fine right up to the point my front tyre decided to rest from the steering duties and slide towards the tree. Braking desperately I shouldered heavily into the tree and John, miraculously, stopped without cannoning into me. There was a bit of shouting though. Some of it from me.
He swung past and I followed him slightly beyond the steering certainty of my front tyre. The last downhill, quite clear, bit soft underfoot perhaps and where I fell off last time. Three times. Within about five metres. Or perhaps less.
Bravely I tried to keep John in sight but the trail had shrunk and my tyre did not exude confidence. I would overcome this reluctance with certainty and keep pushing. This was a great plan right up to the point where my front tyre decided to retire for the remainder of the evening. I slewed sideways off the track, at the steepest point, and with one simple vault and roll claimed Rob’s superman crown.
I did not manage to ride the remainder of the trail as the sludge jammed the front so walked to the exit.
At the carpark we all agreed the conditions were as challenging as we have ever encountered but I had a great ride because of the company and that is what makes the difference. One last challenge was to bump start Carl’s Giant Winnebago as the starter had failed and again the remaining riders rose to the challenge and managed to force it into life.
Next week’s ride will probably be different.